TorJuan Sanders and his partner Decembur Jaymes were allegedly harassed by a Detroit Medical Center security officer June 3. BTL photo: Jason Michael

Detroit Man Claims Anti-Gay Harassment At Detroit Receiving Hospital

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT - It was almost 3 a.m. on June 3. Tor'Juan Sanders had come to Detroit Receiving Hospital with his sick brother, mother and boyfriend. While his mother waited for her son to be admitted in the examination room, Sanders dozed off in the waiting room outside the Crisis Center. He fell asleep on his boyfriend's shoulder with his boyfriend's arm wrapped around him.

But, according to Sanders, his slumber was soon interrupted by a Detroit Medical Center security officer who woke the pair up.

"He asked us who we were waiting on and then he asked me how we - meaning my boyfriend and I - were related to each other," said Sanders. "I told him that we were waiting on my mother to come out, and then he asked for a second time whether we were related. I said, 'No, he's my boyfriend.'"

This news didn't sit well with the security officer.

"He then told us we needed to sit a space or two apart because we couldn't be 'all bulked up like that in here.'

"We didn't argue with the security officer, but soon after, I began to think about the days of separation between blacks and whites; also the civil rights movement, how black people had to fight to be accepted and not discriminated against because of the color of their skin. Now here we are in 2014 and two black men who are in a relationship can't even sit next to one another or rest our heads on one another because someone else has a problem with it. I felt violated and disrespected ... I felt degraded and belittled."

Decembur Jaymes, Sanders' boyfriend, was also shocked.

"Tor'Juan and I looked at each other like, 'Did he really just say what we just heard?'" Jaymes said. "I was irritated because I was sleepy, and when we're getting these questions I'm just thinking, why are you asking? Why does it matter? And why are you even bothering us?"

Between The Lines spoke with DMC security personnel and Sergeant Herndon identified the officer in question as Tom Phillips. He expressed skepticism, however, that the incident had occurred as described.

"I have a hard time believing he did it just like that," Herndon said. Still, he pledged to look into the matter, though as of publication, he has not reached out to BTL to report what he discovered.

For his part, Sanders wrote a letter of complaint to Iris Taylor, the president of Detroit Receiving Hospital. BTL followed up on the complaint and spoke to Juanita Reed, the hospital's vice president for service excellence and community affairs.

"I am acknowledging receiving it and will initiate an investigation," Reed said of the complaint.

According to Kat LaTosch, project director for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Health Equity Council of southeast Michigan, such harassment and discrimination is not unusual.

"This report is sadly all too familiar," LaTosch said. "LGBT people are at higher risk for serious health concerns due, in part, because they are mistreated by healthcare professionals. Seventy percent of transgender people and 56 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have reported being mistreated, [including] refusal of care, refusal of touch, harsh/abusive language or health condition blamed on LGBT identity. At Affirmations (Community Center), we're trying to change that with the Council, which includes healthcare administrators, research and policy experts, LGBT movement organizers and LGBT people coming together to make positive changes in our healthcare systems for our communities."

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